A Travellerspoint blog

Old Rome, a tourist cyclone

sunny 33 °C

Sun 17th July
Old Rome, a tourist's cyclone!
A late start to the day after the previous night's excitement and late return. Enjoyed our first stay in breakfast having bought brekky food as well, downside is there is no coffee in the room (tea, yes) and the coffee machine downstairs was out of order.
The indications were ominous when the metro train into town was standing room only, were they all off to late Sun church, probably not. Their and our destinations were the same, the old part of Rome. As we got closer to the Colosseum, the crowds got thicker until we rounded the last corner sort of above the Colosseum and were amazed at both the building itself and the crowds gathered around it. Originally designed to hold about 80,000 people, well today there were about that many waiting to get in. We found out later that the usual opening time of 9am had been delayed till noon, so even those who got there early had no advantage.
Walking on we went past the Roman ruins, the Emmanuelle Monument, the Trevi Fountain and various statues, fountains and obelisks that we weren't sure about. Some  of the main roads were closed off to traffic, except for the police who are just cruising up and down, checking out the girls, trying to look cool and the taxis who push in anywhere.
Ended up on Del Corso, one of the main shopping streets and it was jammed packed with people on foot, on vespas, on cycles, on segways and some not moving at all except to shove another ice-cream into themselves.
We had a stand up lunch in a cafeteria which was OK except the process is you check out what you want to eat on 1 side then go to the other side and order and pay, you are given a ticket and then you return to the 1st side to then get your food. Like the coffee bars, this one you eat standing at an internal small table.
Somewhat refreshed we kept walking until we reached Piazza de Popolo, a large square surrounded by statues and a giant Egyptian obelisk in the middle, no shade to be found here, only street sellers and beggars. It is amazing how many people are selling fake handbags, belts, sunglasses, toys, hats, water - they just unpack their big sack anywhere tourists are, but seem to be doing a fair trade none the less. 
Ventured up a vast number of stairs to find cool relief in the Borghese Gardens, overlooking the old town, not nearly so busy here, just a few buskers plying their trade.
Pretty much over the tourist cyclone - get sucked into the swirling mass and just hoping to emerge unscathed, we jumped on our now familiar No 495 bus and took it all the way to our cosy apartment in the bush where we quickly settled back with some cool ones and discussed the days events.
Quickly learnt today that:

  • Pedestrian crossings are that in name only, they are a like guides for the drivers to aim at anyone game enough to venture into their territory;
  • Public toilets are non existent and only a few cafes have them or let you use them even if you are eating there. The signs for Public toilets I think are designed to lead you to another tourist place, I doubt if they ever do lead you to a toilet.
  • As is the case anywhere, a lost tourist will always manage to ask another tourist where to go. We were asked by 2 couples within a few minutes of how to get to certain places, just luckily we had just come from one and were going to the second. After last nights efforts, surprising we had any idea.
  • Sunday, guess who is closed on this day, yes the Vatican, the whole place is closed to the public.
  • The main shopping streets are just small boutique stores selling clothing, footwear, souvenirs, no sign of traditional Italian food or goods. 
  • On many street corners there are covered or open stalls ( quite legitimate ) that sell a range of cheap goods, clothing, shoes, pictures, however most just sell exactly the same things, nothing cultural here. 
  • Old Rome is certainly unique and upon reflection is a terrific experience and the crowds do not really diminish the magnitude and craftsmanship in the creation of the monuments and what they were meant to portray.

Posted by Susan23611 23:34 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Goodbye Lisbon, Benvenuti Rome!

sunny 32 °C

Saturday 16th July
Goodbye Lisbon Benvenuti Rome!
6am start to the day,not long up and a power black out before Sue could do her hair! That was a minor concern, our main concern was having to carry our luggage down 4 flights of stairs! Lucky for us the power flicked on as we were walking out the room,what a relief!
The Hotel Clerk was a cheery fellow finalized our account and wished us well. Short stroll to the taxi rank and a speedy ride to the airport, the taxi driver was keen to burn some fuel. Check in completed had breakfast then waited to board Easyjet. Flight to Rome 2 1/2 hours and we lose an hour hooray! Less time for walking.

Welcome to Rome, services overstaffed, but under serviced, we begin our journey in Rome. We boarded the Airportbus shuttle for 15.00€ total,and got dropped off at the Vatican City, supposedly the nearest place to our hotel. Dragging our suitcases we went in search of our accommodation,after stopping for directions we caught the train to Aurelia train station from where apparently we needed to get the 495 bus,but from which exit? After asking at the petrol station and 2 bus drivers, no one seem to recognize the address,we started go worry if this place actually existed! So we tried ringing and after asking the lady if they spoke English her reply was yes I'm Australian. So we finally got the 495 bus and after it rattled along some very uneven cobbled roads and past many derelict houses and "scrub" on the other the bus came to the end of its run. Alighting with growing trepidation we walked back pasr abandoned houses, turned the corner and were confronted with a most elegant 3 storey renovated villa, turned into apartments. We were impressed that staying in Rome we just by luck were staying at an accommodation run by Aussies! 
We had finally arrived at Aurelia Vatican apartments,tired and thirsty.
The owner (from Sydney) gave us a 1/2 hour introductory outline, they have gone to a lot of trouble to produce a small booklet that explains how to get around Rome from here, suggestions on what to see and the best times, possible day trips, local shopping times, some suggested restaurants and other necessary facts to get around Rome without too much trouble. Sue was excited to see a coin operated laundry onsite and that is the first thing cracked up after checking in.
Escorted to our room, Sam explained that this whole area had been condemned by the government with plans to make a large park, but much of the money went missing so the development never went ahead. So the houses were left vacant and Sams family bought some and have been renovating ever since. This one has only been going for 2 years and is very nicely set out with the upper rooms opening out overlooking the central courtyard. We have a room on the top floor and a little balcony to sit out on.
First thing (after putting on the washing machine!) was to scoot down to the local supermarket and buy some supplies and it wasnt long before we were sitting on our balcony drinking some Chianti, Perosi beer and munching on olives, dried tomato, cheese and crusty bread, watching the sun set, how good is this!!
After a quick dinner and getting organised, we were off to see the night sights of Rome, this only meant a quick walk to the Metro and a 10 min ride into town and we were right amongst it. Without knowing where we were all of a sudden we were in the midst of massive crowds of tourists and street sellers. Wandered aimlessly around for an hour or 2, happening upon the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and probably some other landmarks we didnt recognise.
Then we tried to figure out where we actually were and finally had to buy a map and realising we were nowhere close to a metro, we started a long walk, then had to wait in a deserted train station until a train arrived to take us somewhere useful. Thinking we were OK now, we jumped on the 495 bus only to find it was going the wrong direction for us. Thinking we would get off at a bus stop and get a returning bus but each of the stops was in an unlit road, under a road overpass or in a district definitely not to be at 11.30 at night. Eventually the bus came to it's terminus and we sprinted for another 495 bus and HOORAY it was going our way, jumped on and settled down for the 1/2 hour ride back to our stop. Pretty pleased to get back to our apartment, that's for sure.

Posted by Susan23611 13:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Lisbon, Explored the very old, stayed in the new

sunny 27 °C

Friday 15th July
Lisbon sightseeing.
The phone in our room rang which startled us both with only family having our hotel contact number. Sue answered as Peter was in the bathroom,the hotel clerk asked if we were OK because we had set off the alarm! Apparently what Peter thought was the washing line was not! Sue assured the clerk that all was OK. Certainly a jump start for the day.
As our cheapskate room didn't include breakfast (at 55€ per night, what do you expect!) we set off bright and bushy tailed and walked down to the old historic town centre where we had a cafe breakfast (including the now obligatory beggars, who many by the way are multi-lingual, able to beg in a range of languages, no sympathy from these Aussies!) and watched the shops opening for the day. We were close to a wine shop that had in it's window, bottles of port dating back to 1905, selling for a meagre €1600 a bottle. 
Getting our second wind, we tackled the "hill" to check out the castle, overlooking the city however once there it appears that the 7€ entry fee was mostly for the view, so instead we wandered the tiny little streets that looked almost deserted and abandoned. However every corner revealed another alley that included a cafe or corner store about the size of an average bathroom. Tiny little cul de sacs that look like there has been little change over the past 100 years, only concessions are the cars and the odd phone box (yes, the old wooden style, like there used to be).
Whilst walking DOWN some ridiculously steep streets, we were confronted with a tram - going UP. I guess if you had to walk up these streets every day, the tram would be a welcome relief.
Many of the shops in this area are run by and cater to Indian people with traditional outfits and jewelry. Sue finally found a watch with numbers big enough she can see, for 5€.
After some good help from a local store worker, a short walk and a long bus ride we got off in a deserted street, a long way from anywhere, luckily not far from our destination, a famous convent, turned into the National Ceramics Museum. The convent has been richly decorated with tiles from around the 1600's and now many of the rooms are display rooms for a range of tiles and ceramics from then until the 20th century. The grand display is a vista view, done all in tiles, of Lisbon city as it was in the 1700's. It is about 12 m long and about 2 m high. The intricate work is amazing.
Then an even longer bus ride through the suburbs of Lisbon, some look like a high rise equivalent of Redfern, finally arriving at Vasco de Gama shopping centre, a vast glass ceiling mall. Having no luck looking for an IPad/camera connector, we were directed to another mall. So 2 more Metro trains later we arrived at another mall, also bright, airy and full of chairs (even some lounge chairs for weary spouses). Again no luck with the connector but nice to see the malls, they are shopper friendly, offering a nice, relaxed atmosphere, encouraging people to stay and wander, not like ours which are all about the mall owner maximising their profits.
More Metro trains back to the Old center where it was all action but after another walk up some steep hills to look at a ruined church, our only action was to enjoy a cool one at a sidewalk cafe, before returning to near our hotel for a quick Chinese meal. They cook the meal as you wait and you basically stand in front of the cook as he chucks it all around. Funny being in a chinese restaurant having a cook called Mohammed! Quick and tasty meal before returning to the hotel to try and find some accommodation in Rome on the Internet. Booked an apartment, hope it is ok.

Posted by Susan23611 01:36 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Alcobaca, incredible Monastery

sunny 30 °C

Thursday 14th July
A leisurely but fairly basic breakfast (in comparison to other hotel brekkies), Peter finally found out about his scheduled meeting was now delayed until 3 pm today, rather than the 9am previously arranged. So we rearranged our schedule and decided to see the sights of Alcobaca. Taxi into town and after finding the very modest tourism office we checked out the Alcobaca monastery.
The ladies at the monastery ticket office let us leave our suitcases there while we checked out the place. The monastery was an amazing stone building built from about 1100AD and continued until the 1900s. It is a massive 2 story  building with internal verandahs overlooking a central garden. Apparently the monks were able craftsmen, providing ceramics and tiles for many of the Portuguese nobility. They had to work in silence and there were only a couple of rooms where they could talk and this talk was where they were read the bible by the Abbot and given their work instructions. The monastery is quite plain but with some ornate stone carvings and precise stonemasonry. They even diverted the local river so they had running water through the place.
There are 2 immensely intricate tombs in the church area, 1 of King Piedro 1 and the other of his lady love who had been assassinated by the kings father. Apparently the lady was an attendant to the queen, and just before the king was to marry the queen to be ( an arranged marriage), Piedro saw and became infatuated with the young lady. After his wife died during childbirth of their 3rd child, Piedro planned to finally marry his  true love, but his father found out and had her killed. So both their tombs are located on either side of the church, a real Romeo & Juliet tragedy.
Filled in a couple of hours there, not many other tourists apart from an excited gaggle of primary school kids on excursion.
Did a bit of souvenir shopping, Sue did some postcards, a quick lunch and it was time for Peter to go to his meeting and Sue settled in to the library. We were able to leave our suitcases in the bus station office which saved our backs thankfully.
We met back at the bus station and while waiting for our bus to Lisbon, had to ignore a few beggars who frequent all the stations and restaurants asking for money.
Arrived in Lisbon at 6.30pm and jumped on the Metro subway (not MORE trains says Sue!), and soon found our hotel, the VIP Executive Hotel, sounds just right for us on this trip I think! Appeared to be in the financial hub with all the big accounting firms having high rise offices here. Found a little street mall and an Italian restaurant which served a nice meal for cheap price.
Today was Peter's last meeting so now it is Holiday time, only have to organise travel and hotels, not meetings.

Posted by Susan23611 01:33 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Beja to Alcobaca

sunny 30 °C

Wednesday 13 July 2011
Last minute business in Beja then off to Alcobaca, which is about 120 km north of Lisbon close to the coast. It is a major fruit (apples, pears, stone fruit) growing region.

Meetings completed we caught the bus at 11.45am to Alcobaca via Lisbon at a cost of 19€ each, pretty cheap considering a 4 1/2 hour trip. Very efficient service and the buses are very comfortable and are fitted with free WiFi,don't get this on Countrylink!  We arrived in Alcobaca at 4.30pm that included a 1/2 hour changeover of drivers in Lisbon.

We arrived in Alcobaca with no accommodation booked, no final confirmation of meetings. We went in search of a map or tourist information, found neither until Sue asked at the council chambers and got a map and the news that the tourist office had already closed for the day.
Over a coffee we decided to follow up a hotel we had heard about, a "rural tourismo" hotel or "farm stay", which we booked over the phone, sight unseen. After a 10 min taxi ride we arrived at the sprawling single story ranch, out amongst the orchards. 
It's history dates back some 500 years when it was one of the select farms owned by the famous Alcobaca monastery and then privately owned and the owners supplied the monks with food. The hotel has it's own church, polo fields, soccer fields and equestrian center. Apparently it is used for training by some of the professional soccer teams and polo teams. Even has it's own animal nursery and a creek which runs right under the restaurant. Out the back the cook grows his own vegies. Very peaceful and as the hotel was only partially booked, not many people about. Nice to stay somewhere where you can leave the window open and get some fresh air.
After a relaxing circuit of the farm and a chat to the animals in the nursery, we partook in a pre dinner drink, then dinner in the hotel restaurant, enjoying some local food and wine for less than 18€/ person.

Posted by Susan23611 01:31 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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